Thursday, September 20, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 21


Media manipulates vulnerable citizens

Renee Feltz

       "If we the people let it happen, 'War Powers' will become the power to get the media to declare that we are in a war. Grief will have become a cry for killing."
   -- Laura Flanders, "Warnacular"

My mother always told me never to believe everything I saw on television, and college students are
known for our healthy skepticism -- which is why I can't say I was too surprised to see an online report last
Tuesday that suggested CNN was using footage of celebrating Palestinians that was actually shot in

A university student in Brazil had posted to the Independent Media Center newswire that his professor
recognized the images of candy-sharing Palestinians in the streets as being originally taped after the
invasion of Kuwait.

People from all over the world who visit the site immediately responded with requests for video uploads
or stills from the old video footage that the professor had saved to determine if this accusation could be

Eventually, the similarity between the images on the professor's videotape and those being used in
reports about the celebrations was proven to be only that -- a similarity -- and CNN was cleared of any
attempts at misguiding the public with old footage.

This incident illustrates a distinction between those who were prepared to be skeptical of media
coverage (thanks, Ma) and those who had instead learned what media critic Norman Solomon has called
"a few easy Orwellian lessons."

While most of us who read the Brazilian student's post made sure to ask for proof, we were willing to
consider the possibility that it might be true in light of the media manipulation that was in full swing after
the attacks.

Switching off with scenes of smoldering buildings, dazed New Yorkers and flags at half-mast, the
network's powerful Palestinian celebration footage was hard to miss in the days after the attacks on New
York and Washington, D.C.

Largely absent in comparison were pictures of the great majority of Palestinians who mourned with the
United States. Perhaps the only major competition was the pundits who incessantly speculated as to the
possibility that this was all carried out by Islamic extremists.

Just as quickly as the "experts" knew who to blame, they gave us the solution to our problem. Former
Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger appeared on our screens to explain that "there is only one way
to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately
directly involved in this thing."

Most people were able to follow his reasoning because, as Solomon explained in his breakdown of
Orwellian Logic 101, "When they kill, they're terrorists. When we kill, we're striking terror."

But some of us were left wondering. You can only hear the same thing repeated so many times -- to the
exclusion of other relevant information -- before you can't help but realize you're being manipulated.

I didn't want to be sold a war; I wanted to work toward preventing further terrorist attacks.

Again, Orwell's dusty old novel provided more clarity than the tube. In 1984, he described our
conditioned reflex of "stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought
and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical

Maybe this explains why I was cautioned about being branded un-American for attending a
demonstration called "Against the War Effort," which urged us to consider all of our options for bringing
terrorists to justice.

I was wary of being portrayed as naive and clueless, but I couldn't help thinking of Mark Newton-Carter,
whose brother is thought to have died in the terrorist outrage.

He said, "I think Bush should be caged at the moment. He is a loose cannon. He is building up his forces
getting ready for a military strike. That is not the answer. Gandhi said: 'An eye for an eye makes the
whole world blind,' and never a truer word was spoken."

Mark is not alone in feeling this way, but you wouldn't know it by watching television.

On Sunday, Bush told reporters: "This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." We need
to learn to be more skeptical of newsspeak and doublethink now, as there will be much more
manipulation of the truth to come in the media's march to war.

Feltz, a post-baccalaureate education student, can be reached at

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